What was the appeal of Baghdad Central?
I’m a south London actress, my parents are Egyptian and I was born in Devon. My last four roles have been playing refugees, which says a lot. Baghdad Central gave me an opportunity to have layers and explore a character that isn’t a stereotype. It’s a lightbulb moment, that a career is possible and I won’t be stuck in the same roles over and over again.
It takes place in 2003. Do you remember what was happening?
You hear stories, of course. I heard it from my mum and the TV, I had an Iraqi friend at secondary school but I had to do a lot of research.
What did you find that surprised you?
The sanctioning of medication [by the coalition]: they had medicine, they just didn’t give it to people. I didn’t know it was that bad. It was like illicitly dealing drugs, having to hide and buy it in secret. Really unwell people could not get painkillers. I can only imagine the frustration and sadness that came with that.
Mrouj has kidney disease – how dependent does this make her on her dad, Khafaji, played by Waleed Zuaiter?
She’s been ill from a young age and over a year or so it’s developed into kidney failure, which means it’s dialysis or death for her. She’s suffering because of the sanctions. But, funnily enough, if anything she’s more a parent to him than he is to her. She’s wise beyond her years, selfless, very independent, at no point does her illness characterise her – she’s too strong-willed to show it. Every character has a thing they represent and Mrouj is “bravery” throughout.
How did she get on with her sister, Sawsan, played by Leem Lubany?
They’re very different. Mrouj is very introverted, Sawsan is not. Although Sawsan is older, Mrouj is wiser. Sawsan is rebellious, Mrouj is the opposite, she thinks things through. She’s a watcher but she becomes more vocal as the series goes on. They had quite a close-knit relationship – Sawsan opened up about things to Mrouj and she kept those secrets.
How are her family’s lives changed by what’s going on around them?
How does war affect any family that goes through it? We don’t have to look far to find out. When war puts this level of pressure on your family, you find strength you didn’t know you had. That’s what we find with these characters – a level of strength and bravery that wouldn’t be there without war.
What are Mrouj’s hopes and dreams?
She lost her mum and brother at a young age and become a parent to her father. I see her as a carer – she always thinks of others first. Even when she does get to a point of thinking about getting better, it’s because she wants others to benefit from her recovery.
How has it been working with Waleed who plays your father?
Fantastic. I’m blessed we had such chemistry, we’re really similar in how we attack characters. We both feel first, then act. If he throws something at me, I know how to react to it. He’s taught me so much and I can’t wait for people to see this relationship and how it blossoms. It’s beautiful and inspiring.